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The Modern Day Pharisee

Someone I once respected as a Christian leader told me that he didn’t read his Bible every day. I was amazed. He said that for him it had become something to do, just checking off another box. I heard him speak and ridicule people who just “check the box” on reading their Bibles

I guess it made sense at the time. I was impressionable. So I too started to NOT read my Bible when I didn’t feel like it and I checked another boxthe box of being so spiritual that I would not allow myself to fall into the kind of legalism. I thought I had reached a whole new plain of Christianity, one that had all the buzzwords like “authentic.” I started to revel in my failures so people would know that I wasn’t perfect. I was… authentic. I wore my flaws with pride and flaunted the fact that I didn’t read the Bible every day, or really much at all anymore. I didn’t need to. I was… spiritual.

I became so jaded that I soon could sense the hypocrisy in everyone around me. People would say that they were praying for someone, but I knew in my heart that they were not sincere. I had developed the gift of sensing the hypocrisy of others. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite so I stopped praying for people or I would pray with them once on the spot and completely forget about them later. I was becoming so spiritual.

Then it happened. I read the Bible again one day and then the next. I realized that I wasn’t spiritual at all. My frustration with church and the hypocrisy around me was a projection of my own dry and barren soul on those around me. I had never really seen my brothers and sisters in Christ for who they were because I was so busy judging myself in them.

When I began reading the Bible again it was like a deep and refreshing drink of cold water on parched lips. It hurt, but it felt so good. It was what I needed. I had been without for so long. I had almost forgotten how life transformational the gospel really is. I had been living in a self-imposed dessert for too long.

And so now I check the box on reading the Bible every day, not because I am a legalist or a Pharisee. No, I did that quite well without reading the scripture. I go to the well of God’s word everyday now because I know how thirsty I really am and how much I need to hear from Him (even if I don’t feel like it). I’m convinced once again that “holiness” though it isn’t a buzz word is what God has called me to and I’m not as proud as I used to be of being “authentic” with my flaws.

Oh, I’m still flawed. But now I would rather boast in Christ through my failure than boast in my failure. It’s different now that I’m a recovering from being a Pharisee. I wish I never believed the lie that it was somehow spiritual to not use one of the very tools God has given us to grow. Sometimes the most dangerous lies to believe are the ones that Satan puts in the mouths of Christian leaders.

 

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The Donkey Who Carried a King (Children’s Book Review)

the donkeyThe Donkey Who Carried a King written by R. C. Sproul and Illustrated by Chuck Groenink is a fantastic story for children and parents alike.  I really enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading it again and again to my son and daughter.  Dr. Sproul does a great job of taking something that kids are familiar with (like being picked last for a game) and pairing it up with a theme from Scripture (offering your best work no matter the circumstances… and of course the gospel).  Thus taking the readers along a journey from the common to the sacred.

The only draw back to this book verses the other R.C. Sproul Children’s books like The Prince’s Poison Cup, The Lightlings, and The Priest with Dirty Clothes is that the grace of the gospel comes abruptly at the end. The book seems to focus on the servanthood aspect of Christ’s ministry  The questions at the end help bear out more gospel grace reflections along with the many elements of service.

The Illustrations are amazing! The images are child friendly, compelling and illustrate the story beautifully. The use of passive light colors contrasted with darker hues of purple, and deep crimson really set the mood for what’s being described. There is enough in each section to keep my younger four year old looking at the pages while I’m reading, but not so much that he’s distracted from the story.

The Donkey Who Carried a King was a great read.  Perhaps the strongest aspect of the book was the parents section in the back.  Parents are given great questions to ask their kids and help draw the connections between the story they have just read and the scriptures.  We read lots of books at our house, but this element really seems to make this book especially useful.  I’ve noticed most all the children books published by Reformation Trust tend to have this element and its worth noticing the lengths the authors and publishers are going through to produce quality kids literature that goes beyond entertainment and into training and guidance.

Over all this was a fantastic book and I highly recommend it for parents with young children.The Donkey Who Carried a King is an excellent resource. The retail price is $16.00 (Hardcover), and is available at places like Amazon.com for $13.60. I gave it four stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Reformation Trust Publishers as part of their Blog for a Free Book Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2014 in books, Family

 

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Don’t Give Up On Andy!

I’ve had a few experiences with “tough-to-love” students recently in various venues. Whenever a kid like this enters your midst, there is often pressure from leaders and students to “do something.” Mostly they are aggravated by how the “tough-to-love” student is behaving.  I thought I would share how one of my youth pastors growing up “dealt” with one of the “tough-to-love” kids in our youth group.  We’ll call him Andy (I changed his name to protect his identity).

Andy was one of those kids who was difficult to deal with in our student ministry. His parents were both committed Christians and you could tell that he had read a great portion of the Bible. This is normally a great thing, but you have to know Andy. Andy was a skeptic and more often than not when the youth pastor opened up the floor for discussion Andy would inevitably point out a flaw in the youth pastor’s message (like he said “Noah” when he meant “Moses” etc.) or he would rebut what the youth pastor had said with his own take on various passages of scripture. To be clear, Andy was a know-it-all and he knew a great deal, but he didn’t know Jesus. (Later Andy’s youth pastor would say, “I prepared the youth lessons and then I went back again to see what Andy might say so I could be prepared.”)

Andy also used to like to play games and pranks while the youth group was meeting. His youth group met in the church’s old sanctuary. Andy would often get dropped off early for church and slip into the baptistery or side door entrance. He would wait until the worship music had started and he would poke his head out and make funny faces at the group behind the youth pastor’s back. Andy was a clown.

Andy also hung out with the “wrong” crowd at school and would often drink on the weekends and even throughout the week.  Actually, because Andy had some influence and aggressively recruited others to his lifestyle, it’s probably more accurate to say that Andy “was” the wrong crowd. Andy wasn’t just a social drinker, he drank alone on many occasions, Andy was a teenage alcoholic and on a few occasions he showed up to his youth group buzzed. Andy was a drunk.

I guess there are lots of ways to deal with a kid like Andy. You could kick him out. You could tell him not to come back. You talk to him in a condescending way. You could do your best to make him feel uncomfortable so he will leave on his own… Or you could do what David our youth pastor did. Since David was one of my mentors growing up I have a little more insight into how he handled the situation than most.

Every week that David saw Andy at church he would say, “Hey Andy I’m so glad you made it tonight!” (and he meant it). David invited Andy into a special discipleship group that met in his home on a week night throughout the summer and was genuinely pleased when he showed up. David prayed for Andy (I know this because I was there on more than one occasion where I heard him). David talked with Andy’s mom about how to best love and encourage him. David encouraged some of the kids in the youth group to reach out to Andy. Some of these were even the kids that Andy made fun of at school.

The summer that David hosted the bible study at his home we all began to see a change starting to take place in Andy. At the end of the summer just before Andy and his family moved off you could tell that he was different. He stopped drinking (this was in large part because his dad caught him), he started a prayer group at church, and he went to all his friends and told them he had changed.

Even though he moved, Andy kept up with David and the youth group through regular mail (this is back before e-mail, text messaging, facebook, etc.). He graduated high school and went on to college to become a youth pastor. He went through a few more “tough-to-love” stages. He was a hypocrite and a self-righteous Pharisee… but at the age of 24 years old Andy finally met Jesus in a real and life changing way. I know this because… you see, I’m Andy.

I am the man I am today in part because of the attitude of my youth pastor and a friend (that I persecuted mercilessly). They weren’t willing to give up on me or just consider me an nuisance. They loved me and demonstrated Christ’s love for me in their actions and attitudes.

Romans 5:7-8 ESV  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–  (8)  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I didn’t know the depth of this verse as a tough-to-love kid until I saw it in my Youth Pastor, David and my friend Brett (who I used to make fun of incessantly). They loved me in Christ when I gave them every reason not to love me.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Teenagers and the Gospel

teenagers and the gospelWelcome to this series on teenagers. The goal of this blog series is to help parents and youth workers to understand the general changes and issues that teenagers are facing. Sometimes a little knowledge can go a long way in helping to develop a proactive game plan for parenting, teaching, and shepherding students.

These are general observations gleaned from over fifteen years experience in youth ministry. Nothing in this series is ground breaking, earth shattering, or even new. Hopefully these basic observations will give you the insight, perspective, and perhaps empathy for the teens in your life. Of course the ultimate goal is to learn how to best take the gospel and apply it to the teenagers in our lives. This series is mostly to help you understand the world of being a teenager. To this end I hope the entire series proves helpful

We’ll be taking everything in bite size chunks. So buckle up and hold on to something, we are about to reenter the teenage world armed with the gospel.

Teenagers are Changing (Literally!)

Teenagers are emerging adults. This isn’t an overnight process. They are in a constant state of transition from childish dependence on others to adult like independence. One moment they may surprise you with their ability to give selflessly to others, the next moment they can throw an emotional tantrum and break down because mom asked them to take out the trash. They really do have a foot in both worlds. It is fair to expect your teen to be more responsible, but don’t assume it will happen without a few setbacks along the way. 

When a set back occurs, take it in stride, gently help refocus your child’s attention on becoming responsible. Be sure to take time to praise the positive strides you see your child making. Genuine praise and encouragement for being responsible will motivate your child to become even more responsible. If we’re not careful we can fall into a pattern of discouragement by only noticing the set backs and it’s easy to deflate your child’s motivation toward responsibility.

Teenage bodies are also growing and developing into adult bodies. Your teenager will most likely hit growth spurts. Not only will they get taller, but thanks to puberty their bodies will take on a more manly or womanly shape. It is important to keep in mind that mature physical appearance doesn’t mean that your teenager is grown up mentally as well. Many teenagers are children in grown up bodies. Just because they look grown up, doesn’t mean that they are.

Your child may be taller than you, but they still take their cues from you on how to handle the various situations life throws their way. They may not be asking for advice because they feel a pressure to figure things out on their own. A wise parent will make the extra effort to be available for their child to talk. Sometimes talking works best in a shoulder-to-shoulder situation or in the midst of an activity rather than an intense face to face sit down. As a parent it might be wise to schedule a regular time with your child each week to participate in an activity you both enjoy. My dad was always great about taking my brother and I to play tennis, fishing, look for fossils or arrowheads, and a host of other activities we enjoyed. Later in life these times fueled great shoulder to shoulder conversations on the ride home that helped both my brother and I process life.

Each of these posts will end with a Challenge. This is a way to take the post beyond just information and allow the information to impact the way you interact with the teenagers in your life. Obviously the applications will be different according to your relationship with teenagers. Much of this is geared towards parents but will have some application with youth workers as well.

Challenge: Write down the name of the teens you have in your life (if you have a bunch then you might want to spread this over a few days). Take time to pray for them. Thank God that he has placed them in your life and ask Him to help you be sensitive to their needs as they mature. Ask God to give you wisdom in your relationship with them.

  • Write down all the ways that you see your teen becoming more responsible. Think of appropriate ways to encourage your teen when you see them following through on this type of behavior
  • Now Write down areas of responsibility that you they still need to work through. Current frustrations, etc. Pray over these issues and have a game plan in place to encourage the snot out of your kid when they step up to the task.
  • Think of ways to challenge your child to be more responsible.
  • Pray that God would protect your child from people who would want to take advantage of them.

If you don’t already have a regularly scheduled time to hang out with your child start working on a plan to get some shoulder to shoulder time in on an activity. Think of something that will be fun for the both of you and work at it until you find something that sticks. You’ll be surprised at how much this regular interaction will open the doors for authentic communication down the road.

In the coming days and weeks we’ll be looking at teenage grumpiness, technology, identity, forgetfulness, and more!

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in Family, parenting

 

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3 Thoughts on Facebook, being Missional and the Movies

I have to confess that my Facebook feed has brought me much grief over the last few weeks. Facebook has been an excellent tool in my own life to help me see pockets of hypocrisy and need for growth… it’s also given me a window into the lives and thoughts of others. What saddens me the most is how easily I engage in a debate about the trivial… like my opinion matters more than the person I’m talking too. Rarely ever do we communicate well in these short gusts of phrase and the opportunity for miscommunication is high.

It’s been awful to watch the discussion around the Noah Movie. Before the movie was released there were already debates waging about whether Christians should go see this movie or not. Then the mud began to sling. To be fair I don’t know that anyone on my feed called any person out in particular but there were a lot of straw men put down… Straw men are what we build and destroy to prove a case when no one enters the debate with us. In our minds we may picture real people we are too cowardly to approach or we may just be trying to show an assumed audience that we are with them by verbally attacking a mutually disliked position. How easily Facebook distracts us from the real mission field.

The problem develops when we allow a trivial thing like a movie to cause an apparent rift between brothers and sisters in Christ. We say things in general to the public we would never say to each other in person. A difference of opinion on a movie (mainly whether or not it’s worth someones time to go see it) is all it takes to cause a virtual schism of my Facebook friends. No matter which side of the debate you are on it becomes so easy to build your straw men, aim in the general direction of the opposition, and fire your volleys of well put phrase.

It’s so easy to tear down… So hard to build up. That’s why after some time of thought and reflection I came up with these 3 guidelines to keep me from tearing down my friends (real or imagined) on Facebook over trivial things like the movies.

1. I am accountable to God for everything I post. The following passage is talking about food but given the current conversation there is room to make application to how one posts on Facebook.

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. (Romans 14:12-20 ESV)

2. Not everything that I’m free to do, is good to do. The following passage also deals with food (in a different way). The gist of the passage indicates that my personal freedom isn’t the most important aspect of my life and that even personal freedom when it comes across a brother of weaker conscience can be limited for the sake of his good and God’s glory.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience– I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:23-33 ESV)

3. Correction and discipline need to be applied in private and on a personal level. There are those occasions where a person has sinned against you and you need to address their sin. They may have sinned against you on Facebook or other areas of the public forum. Their sin still needs to be addressed in a private and personal manner.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
(Matthew 18:15-19 ESV)

I’m not there yet. I have a long way to go. I found that out the other day in the midst of the whole Noah debacle. I thought I’d add to the fray and call some folks out in “general” who were fighting straw men… Little did I realize I was falling to the same temptation.

How about you? What are your thoughts on facebook, being missional and the movies? What other points would you make or add?

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Facebook

 

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Heaven and Hell: Are They Real? (A Review)

_225_350_Book.1111.coverHeaven and Hell: Are They Real? is the ultimate question book about Heaven and Hell. It’s full of readings from contemporary and ancient scholars addressing several questions that are generated on the Biblical topics of Heaven and Hell. Have you ever wondered:

Will there be animals in Heaven?
Will we have sex in Heaven?
Will we have jobs in Heaven?
What does an eternity in Hell feel like?
How is eternity in Hell a fair punishment for sin?
If I’m in Heaven, will I see people in Hell?

The answers to these questions and more are found in this book! It reads like a blog with each brief chapter covering a question of a given topic in the category of Heaven, Hell or the moments after death. The author, Christopher D. Hudson shares a given scriptures passage that addresses the topic and sets up the question, then brings in a reading that helps answer the question. He then poses a follow up question for further reflection. I found this book a refreshing read on a difficult subject.

To be fair the book is a bit difficult to read in the traditional manner (from start to finish) but that’s what makes it great for people who don’t read much. They can pick up with their questions and follow their curiosity through the book. Amazon had it for less than $10 right now which is a great deal.

Readers may also appreciate Randy Alcorn’s Book Heaven which takes a more systematic approach to the topic. It’s on sale at Amazon.com right now in Hardback for less than $15.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their Reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in books, theology

 

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Before you Adopt… Know Orphans (A Review)

know orphans KnowOrphans: Mobilizing the Church for Global Orphanologyis a follow up book to Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care. Dr. Rick Morton seeks to continue to blaze a trial forward when it comes to mobilizing the church to global orphan care. In this book he addresses recent criticisms the movement has experienced and clarifies action steps that individuals and churches can take to become involved in the orphan movement. He also shares background from his own personal experience as well as advice for those who are working through an international adoption.

Know Orphans contains plenty of practical strategies of how to engage in the mission of the gospel as it concerns orphans. The scope goes well beyond adoption as Dr. Morton encourages the church and individuals to stand in the gap for various kinds of orphans. He does an excellent job of painting the picture that “not all orphans are equal” and “that each situation is unique” while at the same time providing tools and resources for the reader to become engaged.

On a personal note. I’ve had the honor of meeting Dr. Morton. He was one of my Professors for a Graduate Level Youth Ministry Seminar. While I didn’t have the opportunity to hear him speak about adoption I did have the opportunity to get a sense of him through his personal interaction with the students both in and out of class (it was a small class). His genuine concern for the Kingdom made a significant mark on me. I’m thankful for that class and I’m thankful for this book.

This is a must read for anyone interested in international adoption and a great read for anyone interested in understanding the Orphanology movement. Amazon’s got a great price on the Kindle Edition and the Paperback right now. If you haven’t already make sure you check out Orphanology.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse as part of their Blog Tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in books, Family

 

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